Astronomy Skills through Teaching Enhancements and Research


March 12, 13, 2005 at University of the South, Sewanee, TN

Cordell-Lorentz On-Line Telescope, Sewanee, TN

Dr. Douglas T. Durig, University of the South

Dr. Donald F. Collins, Warren Wilson College

We have developed several modules for improving students’ Astronomy Skills through Teaching Enhancements and Research (ASTER).  These activities actively engage students in the learning process by making astronomical measurements using new technology, and by participating in active research tracking and discovering asteroids and comets.

The workshop will incorporate three modules of astronomy learning and research opportunities.

  1. Planetary Tracking with digital cameraA series of digital sky images featuring planets have been produced and will continue to be produced.  After these images have been aligned with two-star alignment, students can then produce a slide show that plays these images sequentially.   Students can then assemble these pre-aligned images into a slide show using free software and observe retrograde and pro-grade motion of the planet(s) among the field of stars.  Running this module generates much student discussion about the motion of objects in the solar system.  Students are engaged in assembling the slide show and they can be engaged in photographing the planets with the simple tools of an inexpensive time-exposure digital camera and a tripod.

  1. Point and click color photometry of stellar clustersStudents load digital camera color images of stellar clusters, enhance the colors, and observe the distinction between very young clusters and very old clusters as bright stars evolve into red giants.  Using a computer program, students "point and click" on the stars in the cluster images.  The point and click program and immediately plots the luminosity vs. color index (Hertzspring-Russel) diagram for the cluster.  For young clusters the H-R diagram quantitatively shows the predominance of stars lying along the main sequence.  Older clusters show that a number of bright stars have evolved into red giants and have branched off the main sequence.  Students have responded very enthusiastically with this activity, especially when they participated in producing the digital camera photos.  This module can also be applied to multi-color FITS images produced with a research-grade CCD camera as well as commercial-grade digital cameras.  The image at the left is the H-R diagram from the digital camera image of M67 made by Dr. Donald Collins.  M67 is a very old cluster.  The H-R diagram shows many bright stars have evolved into red giants (the points in the upper right).  The main sequence is the stars following the downward sloping diagonal in the bottom part of the diagram.
    1.  Asteroid and comet tracking, discovery, and remote observing at Cordell-Lorentz Observatory. There are over 100,000 known asteroids (minor planets) in the Solar System and perhaps just as many yet undiscovered objects.  The known objects need to be observed periodically to maintain accuracy of the database at the Minor Planet Center (  Students and faculty can remotely use the telescopes at Cordell-Lorentz Observatory at Sewanee to track the asteroids.  Students at Sewanee and Professor Durig have recently discovered several asteroids using the techniques that will be presented in the workshop.  Participants will practice planning observing sessions, access the telescope remotely, and analyze CCD images for astrometric data on the minor planets observed.  Weather permitting, the workshop date occurs in a prime season for new discoveries (lack of moonlight, ecliptic close to zenith, and milky-way out of the area).  Be prepared to be observing until 2:00 am or 3:00 am!  This is an excellent opportunity for students and faculty to become actively engaged in planetary research – even at the introductory astronomy level.  Professor Durig’s facilities are expanding, which will provide more opportunities for ACA colleagues to participate through remote observing. The image is a sequence of photographs of comet P/2004 T1 photographed by Dr. Doug Durig and G. A. T. Morris of University of the South.  The images were processed into an animated sequency by Don Collins at Warren Wilson College.   Each frame consists of a 5 minute exposure and the three frames span a time period of roughly one hour.  The blank frame marks the beginning of the sequence. 

We hope you will be able to attend this workshop and make use of these hands-on activities.  These represent both learning opportunities and research opportunities for students in survey astronomy classes. 

Please respond to me ( if you wish to participate in this workshop.  Participants will receive reimbursements for travel and expenses plus a modest stipend.  Space is limited.  Please apply by writing to Donald F. Collins ( before Feb. 28, 2005.


The workshop is funded by Teaching and Technology: Stage II – Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Apalachian College Association.

Donald F. Collins
Department of Physics
WWC 6017
PO Box 9000
Warren Wilson College
Asheville, NC  28815
(828) 771-3702
Douglas T. Durig
Departments of Physics and Chemistry
Director of The Cordell-Lorenz Observatory ( OBS CODE 850 )
The University Of The South
Sewanee TN 37383-1000
FAX 931-598-1145